WASHINGTON (AP) — The House approved a $1 trillion package of road and other infrastructure projects late Friday after Democrats resolved a months-long standoff between progressives and moderates, notching a victory that President Joe Biden and his party had become increasingly anxious to claim.
The House approved the measure 228 to206. The measure was supported by approximately a dozen Republicans and opposed by roughly half the number of Democrats.
Approval of the legislation, which would create legions of jobs and improve broadband, water supplies and other public works, whisked it to the desk of a president whose approval ratings have dropped and whose nervous party got a cold shoulder from voters in this week’s off-year elections.
In Virginia, Democratic candidates for governor were defeated and New Jersey’s blue-leaning state won. Those setbacks made party leaders — and moderates and progressives alike — impatient to produce impactful legislation and demonstrate they know how to govern. Democrats cannot afford to appear in chaos a year prior to midterm elections, which could lead Republicans taking back congressional control.
Democrats felt like they had a rush of adrenaline when the infrastructure bill was released for final congressional approval. But despite their win, Democrats suffered a setback in that they delayed a vote for a larger, more important measure to be voted on until later this month.
After moderates requested a cost estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on this sprawling $1.85 trillion 10-year measure to support family, health and climate change programs, the measure was rescheduled. With both bills passing, Biden’s hopes of a win were dashed by the postponement.
But in an evening breakthrough brokered by Biden and House leaders, the moderates later agreed to back that bill if CBO’s estimates are consistent with preliminary numbers that White House and congressional tax analysts have provided. This agreement was a major step towards a House vote, which could eventually send it to the Senate.
In exchange, progressives agreed to back the infrastructure measure, which they’d spent months holding hostage in an effort to pressure moderates to back the social and environment measure.
“As part of this agreement, at the request of the President, and to ensure we pass both bills through the House, progressives will advance” both bills Friday night, said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, in a statement.
On Friday, the White House released a Biden statement that aimed to strengthen the agreement. “I am urging all members to vote for both the rule for consideration of the Build Back Better Act and final passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill tonight,” he said, using the administration’s name for the two measures. “I am confident that during the week of November 15, the House will pass the Build Back Better Act.”
The party’s leaders had earlier announced that the Social and Environment Measure would be postponed. This cast new doubt over their plans.
Democrats have been struggling for months to make the most of their White House control and advance their top priorities. That’s been hard, in part because of Democrats’ slender majorities, with bitter internal divisions forcing House leaders to miss several self-imposed deadlines for votes.
“Welcome to my world,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters, adding, “We are not a lockstep party.”
Jill Biden and the president delayed their plans to visit Delaware Friday evening. Biden instead talked to House leaders and moderates as well as progressives. A White House official said the conversation was confidential.
Jayapal was one of the people Biden met. Jayapal’s caucus had been at forefront in delaying leverage measures. Biden asked Jayapal, her 95-member caucus to vote for the bill. This was confirmed by a source who only spoke anonymously.
The Progressives demand that both bills be combined to vote on to force moderates to back the more extensive social measure.
Democrats’ day fell apart when after hours of talks, a half-dozen moderates insisted they would vote against the sprawling package of health, education, family and climate change initiatives unless the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office first provided its cost estimate for the measure.
Democratic leaders claimed that this would be a lengthy process. With Friday’s delay and lawmakers’ plans to leave town for a week’s break, those budget estimates could well be ready by the time a vote is held.
The Senate passed the infrastructure bill with the support of the GOP, including Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky). It would include huge amounts for highway, mass transportation, broadband, airports, drinking and wastewater water as well other projects.
However, it was made a pawn by the progressives and moderates in their long-running struggle for power. Earlier Friday, Jayapal said the White House and Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation had provided all the fiscal information lawmakers needed for the broad bill.
“If our six colleagues still want to wait for a CBO score, we would agree to give them that time — after which point we can vote on both bills together,” she wrote. It was clear that there were some progressives who would not vote for the infrastructure bill.
However, that all changed when the Democratic factions came to an agreement.
House passage would allow the Senate to pass the package on social and environmental issues. There will be some changes, and more Democratic drama. That’s chiefly because of demands by Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to contain the measure’s costs and curb or drop some of its initiatives.
Leaders were forced to reduce the 2,100-page bill to half of its $3.5 trillion original size by moderates. Republicans object because it’s too expensive and detrimental to the economy.
This package will provide assistance for large numbers of Americans to help pay for their health, care for children or elderly relatives at home. This package will provide $555 billion worth of tax incentives to encourage cleaner energy and electric cars. Recent amendments by Democrats include a program to restore paid family leave and permits of work for millions of immigrant workers.
Much of the package’s cost would be covered with higher taxes on wealthier Americans and large corporations.
The moderate opposition to the bill and strict Senate regulations about the contents of the huge bill suggests that both the family leave program as well as the immigration provisions could be dropped.